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Interviewing suspects with complex communication needs

If an investigating officer wants to interview a suspect who they believe may have complex communication needs, the officer must make certain arrangements to enable effective communication with the suspect during an interview.

A person will be taken to have complex communication needs where they have difficulty communicating effectively with the interviewer, whether the communication difficulty is temporary or permanent, and whether it was caused by disability, illness or injury [see Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) reg 18(2)]. Intoxication, however, is not defined as a communication difficulty [see reg 18(2)]. Some examples of complex communication needs include where a person has an intellectual disability, Cerebral Palsy, an acquired brain injury, mental health issues, or is autistic.

When an investigating officer proposes to interview a suspect whom they believe may have complex communication needs, they must make the following arrangements as relevant:

  • arrange for the suspect to be accompanied during the interview by a person who is a prescribed communication assistant;
  • arrange for the suspect to use, or be provided with, a prescribed communication device for the purposes of the interview.

See Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) reg 19(1), but note that reg 19(2) enables an officer to proceed with the interview where a prescribed communication assistant or prescribed communication device cannot be arranged and the circumstances do not warrant the interview being postponed [see reg 19(2)].

These requirements operate in addition to those contained in section 74D of the Summary Offences Act 1953(SA) [see Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) reg 19(1)].

The Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) defines a prescribed communication assistant as a person who provides communication assistance to a suspect or vulnerable witness while being interviewed, and includes a communication partner (see Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service below) and any other person approved for the purpose of the interview by the interviewer [see Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) reg 22(1)].

A prescribed communication device includes:

  • text, symbol or picture boards;
  • speak-and spell communication devices;
  • voice output communication devices;
  • tablets, laptops or computers with software designed to assist a person with complex communication needs;
  • any other device approved for the interview by the interviewer.

See Summary Offences Regulations 2016 (SA) reg 22(2).

Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service

The Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service is available for lawyers, police and those in the criminal justice system to use when interviewing children or adults with complex communication needs.

The service is run by trained, independent volunteers and can assist victims, witnesses, suspects and defendants charged with any criminal offence who also has complex communication needs.

A lawyer who suspects that a client has a complex communication need can contact the on-call Communication Partner Service to see if they can assist.

The on-call service telephone line operates 7 a.m. - 10 p.m, seven days a week. Contact Uniting Communities Communication Partner Service on 1800 615 677 or visit the Uniting Communities website for more information.

Communication partners observe and note communication barriers and recommend strategies and adjustments to the interview and court process in order to enable those with complex communication needs to effectively participate in the interview or legal process.

Communication partners are not advocates, interpreters or support workers, and it is not their role to explain legal matters to clients.

Interviewing suspects with complex communication needs  :  Last Revised: Mon Aug 13th 2018